Don’t know what is copyright? Copyrights are exclusive rights of the creators of original works. Infringement of copyrights is penalized by law. Read the article to learn the details of copyrights, how they are gained and what the penalties are.
Copyright is a legal term that signifies the exclusive rights of the creators of literary artworks. Copyrights prevent unauthorized usage and copying of works of art and literature, and there are penalties for those against whom infringement of the right is proven.
Copyrights make sure creators or owners of the rights maintain exclusivity. Copyrights are also automatic. One is the owner of copyrights to work as soon as such work is completed as long as it is 100% original, fixed in its expression, and minimal creativity is met. Copyrights come into action without any kind of registration or announcement. However, that doesn’t mean registration is useless. There are some perks and privileges that are rendered only to those who have copyright registration.
Read till the end to know about copyrights and all the related details.
What is copyright?
Copyright is an owner’s legal right to intellectual property. Simply speaking, copyright is the right to copy. Copyrights mean that only the creators or the people who the creators have authorized are the only people who can reproduce or, say, copy the work.
Copyright law gives the exclusive right to use and duplicate the intellectual material or say the material for a predetermined time; at the lapse of that time, the copyrighted material becomes public domain.
Intellectual property defines a set of intangible assets that are owned and protected (legally) by a company or individual against unauthorized external use or implementation without consent. An intangible asset, as is apparent from the term itself, is a non-physical asset owned by a person or a company.
The concept of intellectual property revolves around the fact that products or intellect or creations of the human mind need the same protection afforded to physical property- tangible assets. Developed economies have protective measures in place for both tangible and intangible assets.
Tangible and intangible assets
Tangible assets refer to physical assets or property that a company owns, like a computer, an office, or office equipment. Tangible assets are companies’ primary assets used to produce products or services. Such as computer equipment.
An asset of non-physical nature is an intangible asset. Brand identity, copyrighted material, trademarks, and patents are intangible assets. Tangibles are physical and countable, while intangible assets are non-physical.
How does copyright work?
When someone creates something original, and it requires significant mental effort to create it, the product of the hard work becomes an intellectual property automatically. Intellectual property needs to be protected from illegal duplication or unauthorized use.
There are countless examples of intellectual property; consider the content for a website, art, graphic designs, novels, ebooks, films, descriptions of videos, musical lyrics, architectural designs, etc. The list can go on and on! Copyright is a safeguard for the protection of intellectual property.
A work is original if created with independent thinking and original creativity. It must be free of duplication. In general, this type of work goes by the name of Original Work of Authorship. If you have a piece of writing created from your independent knowledge and creativity, you will have its copyrights automatically, even if you didn’t apply for those. No one will have the right to copy that writing unless you give your express permission to do so.
Copyrights are automatic, but if you apply for them and register voluntarily, you will have an edge in case of a conflict.
Copyright isn’t a simple affair; many complications are involved. First of all, all types of creative holdings are not copyrighted. Particular types get automatic copyright protection. Second, copyright offers no protection for ideas, discoveries, or even theories. Companies’/business logos, slogans, brands, and domain names are also unprotected as long as a particular procedure is not followed.
Copyrights work only when creation is tangible, like ideas, discoveries, lyrics, or designs are written down. Copyrights do not protect ideas that have not seen the light of day. The physical appearance of creativity and originality is important in order to move copyrights.
In the U.S., original owners have copyrights to their works for their entire lifetime and even 70 years afterward. If a corporation owns copyrights to work, the copyright period is extended to 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years, contingent on whichever expires first. Copyrights are constantly evolving in the United States, and there are quite a few changes to be noticed in the copyright duration.
The “life of the author plus 70 years” protection is a success of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (aka, the Mickey Mouse Protection Act or Sonny Bono Act), which meant a general increase in copyright protections by two decades.
What is copyright infringement?
Copyright infringement is the unwarranted use of copyrighted material. Copyright infringement, in other words, means that the due of the copyright holder, as the exclusive use of a work for a period of time, is not being respected or breached.
Copyright infringement is most common in music and movies; these are the two most breached areas of intellectual property. Infringement issues will lead to contingent liabilities – amounts set aside for a possible lawsuit.
Copyright infringement in detail
Individuals and companies that develop new technologies and create works of art and crafts register for copyrights because it protects them against theft and unauthorized duplication. Some people may have permission to use those works due to proper license arrangements. Others may even purchase rights to a certain technology or work, but there are still several ways in which copyright infringement can happen.
Copyright infringement is common because of the high cost of authorized works or lack of access to licensed works.
The United States Copyright Office accepts new applications/claims for copyrights, which reached 443,000 in 2020 alone. The copyrights were granted to creators of all types, e.g., literary works, visual arts, music, and performing arts.
The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright infringement in the following words:
“As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the .copyright owner’s permission.”
The Copyright Office is not responsible for prosecuting those who violate copyright law. Rather, it just assists the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the course of details of the cases related to copyright infringement.
What is copyright law?
The Copyright Act saves a work of authorship from being copied and reproduced illegally. One significant factor to note in terms of copyright is that the act or copyright law only protects the work and not at all the ideas contained within the works. For example, if a written material is copyrighted, it is only the works that are protected, not the ideas in it, like a machine’s manual does not protect the machine itself.
No one is allowed to copy the description as it is, but anyone can use the description of a machine from scratch, and the device will be theirs.
Copyrights are registered in the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress: the important fact is that newly created works need not be registered. In fact, giving out a notice of copyrights is not necessary. New works are automatically copyrighted under certain conditions. However, proper registration and notice of the registration do afford additional benefits. This is why it’s recommended to get a copyright registration as well as give out notifications.
Copyright law is part of intellectual property- a broader category of law. The first federal copyright law concerning intellectual property and copyright was enacted in 1790. Since then, four copyright law revisions have been done at different times – 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976. There have been some amendments to the copyright statute and four revisions.
The following are two recent and the most notable changes to the Act:
- In 1998, The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extended copyright duration from 50 to 70 years after an author’s death.
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allowed the U.S. to join the two new digital copyright treaties in 1998, bringing the U.S. up to international standards.
The role of the U.S. Copyright Office
The U.S. Copyright Office plays these roles:
- Administers the Copyright Act, including maintaining copyright registration regulations.
- Creates and maintains a public record of copyrights registered in the Copyright Office.
- Provides technical assistance to the Congress and Executive Branch agencies. Also provides advice on copyright issues, takes care of drafting of copyright legislation, comments on proposed legislation, and prepares studies on related issues.
- Provides information services globally.
- Supports the Library of Congress. Copyright works that are registered in the Copyright Office are stored in the Library of Congress. The Library and Office work together on many projects, including the current program to register and deposit works electronically.
The U.S. Copyright Office has enormous informational materials on the U.S. as well as international copyright law, along with a searchable index to court cases.
Rights of the copyright owner
One general rule in copyright is that the creator or the author of works is the first owner of the copyrights. However, there are some notable exceptions to the rule. One common exception is ghostwriting, or the “work for hire” provision under which employers are the first owners of copyrights of the works during their service. It is subject to certain conditions, but the gist is this essentially.
Rights and limitations of the owners
Copyright really just means “the right to copy.” The United States Copyright Act affords certain rights to authors/creators of “original works of authorship,” including pictorial, dramatic, audiovisual creations, architectural, musical, choreographic, literary, pantomimic, graphic, cartographic, and sculptural. Among other rights, only owners have the right to reproduce, change, distribute, display or even allow performance.
These rights are especially for the copyright owner, but there is a limit to copyrights. The Copyright Act puts certain essential limitations on copyrights. These limitations come in different forms. Fair use, one of the limitations, is a legal defense to a claim of copyright infringement. Other limitations, known as exceptions or exemptions, allow particular uses of materials that are protected by the copyright laws without getting formal and legal permission from the copyright owner.
The rights in the Copyright Act allow copyright owners full control over their creations and enable them to benefit monetarily or/or otherwise, exploiting their works according to their own wishes. Copyright also protects the moral rights, i.e., rights of attribution and integrity of visual art authors.
Copyright does not protect ideas
Ideas are not protected by copyrights. This is a crucial aspect of copyright laws. One might think, why? Why is such an important, in fact, the most important part of a work of creativity kept out of the realm of copyrights? The answer lies in the notion that ideas cannot be monopolized. You cannot deprive the public of ideas; they are universal and, consequently, public domain.
So, copyright law protects only the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. Copyright protection is also not extended to any historical fact, process, procedure, the principle of discovery, or slogan.
So basically, anyone can use an idea stipulated in a book or in a video and create something new with it without moving the copyright infringement laws. It could be someone else’s idea, but anyone could use it because it’s an idea, not the expression of an idea.
This also means that there can be copyright in two works that express the same idea because it’s an original expression of an idea that is well protected by copyright. For example, two people may sketch the same tree, independent of each other, each sketch may have a copyright of its own, and neither of them would be violating the copyrights of the other.
Copyright protection automatically comes to life as soon as a work is created and adopts a physical form or a tangible medium of expression. This automatic protection applies to works at all stages of creation and to published and unpublished works. A work of authorship must meet three criteria in order to be automatically protected by the law:
- Minimal creativity
Originality is a must-have feature for copyrights. Work must be 100% original if it wants to be protected by copyrights. Creation does not have to be out of this world or entirely unheard of, nor does it require some sort of aesthetic, literary, or artistic quality so as to be protected by U.S. copyright.
In fact, the standard of originality is quite basic. Basically, the criteria are that it shouldn’t be copied and should have originated from the author himself/herself.
Some types of works are not protected by copyrights because they are entirely factual in nature and can’t be covered. There is no aspect of originality in such works, and originality being an essential prerequisite, they are not given the protection of copyrights.
Take, for example, a standard calendar or even a height/weight chart. Just like this, copyright does not cover things like slogans and titles, listing contents, or simple variations of lettering and colors.
For copyrights to come into action, it’s crucial for a work to meet the fixation criteria, i.e., it must be fixed in a “tangible medium of expression.” A “tangible medium of expression” is a formal or informal, commonly perceptible format. Also, it includes a structure from which the work may be perceived only with the assistance of some device or technology.
This would mean a handwritten letter or even sketched drawing on a piece of cloth. At the same time, It would also mean a digital document saved on your computer’s hard drive or on a flash drive. A video recording in a camera also falls in the same category.
Fixation is a must for copyrights, but in some cases, state laws may also offer copyrights to non-fixed works. However, it’s not a common phenomenon. An example of non-fixed works is lectures and speeches that have not been recorded in one way or the other before the presentation of the same. The same goes for sermons and addresses.
An improvised music tune or even a comedy skit will be considered as non-fixed works as per copyright definition. The same is true for an unsaved image or some text written and saved on your computer. All of these works are non-fixed and will not have automatic copyrights.
Publication, notice, and registration are not required
Under old U.S. law, copyright protection was acquired by the publication of the work only after using a proper copyright notice. This is no longer necessary; notice or publication is both unnecessary for getting copyright protection in the U.S.
In addition, it is also unnecessary to register with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to get copyright protection.
The originality, fixation, and minimal creativity criteria ensure protection if it is met. However, publication, notice, and registration give a proper status to a work’s author or creator.
Although registration is not necessary for copyright protection, the Copyright Act offers many benefits for doing so. The registration is an official public record of the copyright claim. Before filing any copyright infringement case in a court in the U.S., registration is necessary for all works of U.S. origin. Registration is undeniable evidence of the validity of the copyright of work and of the owner’s credentials as marked on the registration certificate if it was made before or within five years of a work’s publication.
Copyright infringement issues
Copyright infringement issues have been of different nature over all the years of its existence. Copyright had to grapple with socio-political changes and legal issues along with technological advancement. The Copyright Office had to face quite a few challenges in terms of matching the pace of ever-evolving and progressing technology.
With modern technology, it’s easy to copy a product or information from anywhere. A lot of companies do this and earn a good amount of money while only copying products or information from other businesses. This may mean ease for many small firms and companies, but it is clearly a breach of copyrights.
In response, the Copyright Office established the Copyright Modernization Division in 2018. The new division seeks to modernize the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress and keep abreast of contemporary technology.
Copyright infringement laws are different in different countries and can even be mutually contested. In an international scenario, copyright ownership becomes complicated. National courts may feel a threat to national productivity when national and international rules come face to face in a case.
Some international organizations, like the European Union, try their best to have harmonized or, let’s say, similar copyrights across their member countries. Other than that, there can be numerous possibilities of conflicts, and they do happen.
Photography and visual assets
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain copyrights of visual assets. With the advancement in digital imagery, it’s easier than usual to copy an image without alerting copyrights, which is one of the biggest issues copyright faces. The copyright office has received quite a few complaints pertaining to copyrights of visual assets.
Not all copyright infringement cases lead to monetary losses: in many cases, the moral rights of the owners are enforced, and it is made sure that the real owners of work are recognized. Getting recognition as the rightful owner is the right known as the right of attribution. And the right to prevent changes or distortions by the owners of their work is the right of integrity. So, there are different ways in which copyrights are fought for, and there are various punishments for infringements.
The power of the internet is something we are always applauding for its making our lives so much easier and faster. But, copyright issues are increasing manifolds because of the constant and unchecked communication all over the globe. Anyone can access copyrighted material online, and companies are manipulating this ease to a great extent.
New technology is making it harder than ever to catch and control violators. Boundless global communication is actually infringing upon the rights of copyright owners quite a lot, and at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that can be done to alleviate this situation.
Online music sharing applications like Napster have taken the music industry by a great surprise. Peer-to-peer sharing of music files was allowed on Napster; it was a frenzy for music lovers, but the bad part was that the music of many artists was transferred online without consent, in complete violation of copyrights.
In the end, record companies in the music industry sued Napster for copyright infringement (and it had to happen) for the protection of the intellectual property rights of the owners of the music, whether they were companies or individuals.
Napster was found guilty of copyright infringement because the company was aware of what was happening and of the legal consequences, and still, nothing was done by them to stop illegal infiltration. The music reached far and wide corners of the world, and the record companies and owners got nothing out of the creative effort. Also, the music was copied and used by customers, which was financially harmful to record companies and the sale of their music.
Napster had benefited record companies, and they were not going to take it lightly.
When it comes to claiming copyright infringement, companies can go after those companies that provide music files to users for unauthorized distribution. Companies may also seek damage from internet service providers in addition to individual users.
In a recent case related to copyright infringement for music, the band spirit claimed copyright infringement against the band Led Zeppelin the estate of Randy Wolfe. It was claimed that Led Zeppelin had copied some parts of Spirit’s song “Taurus” in one of their songs, “Stairway to Heaven.” The case started in 2014, and it took six years to complete; still, the result was in favor of Led Zeppelin.
How long does copyright protection last?
Copyrights are not forever. There is a particular limit on copyrights. For all works of authorship created after Jan. 1, 1978, the copyright limit is for the life of the creator along with an extra 70 years. Copyright rules are different for anonymous and pseudonymous works. The protection lasts 95 years from the date of its first publication or 120 years from the date of its creation, depending on which of these two expires first.
Copyrights laws are different for all the works created before the cut-off date of 1978. A wide variety of factors determine the fate of the works created before this particular year.
Is copyright infringement illegal?
Strictly speaking, copyright is illegal. It is prohibited by law, and the owner of the rights is protected by law. However, one must keep in mind that copyright is a civil issue. It’s not a criminal case. So, in case of copyright infringement, the penalty includes a fine and payment to the affected party.
How do you prove copyright infringement?
There are many ways of proving copyright infringement cases. Sometimes, in some cases, it can be difficult. The nature of the issue could be challenging. In any case of a copyright infringement. One has to start by proving that he or she is the owner of the works and indeed has copyrights. Proving ownership is the cornerstone.
Next up, one has to show that the culprit got access to the material and copied it without authorization. At this point, it may get complicated if the copied work is not identical or similar to the copyrighted material. A work may have infringed the copyrights of the original work, but the author may have used such clever language that the copied material is nothing like the original material.
Copyright is an important law put in place for the protection of creators of works. It takes a lot of mental stress to create a piece of art, literature, etc., and it’s not rightful for people to copy and use it without recognizing the real owner of the work. Copyright infringement is the name of using someone’s creation without authorization. Copyrights are automatic now; this means no registration or announcement is required to have this right; with original work and a couple of other conditions fulfilled, you own copyrights to work automatically. Copyright infringement has become very common in our times with never-ending connectivity. Copyright issues are far and wide, and the U.S. Copyright Office is struggling to keep abreast of times by utilizing the newest technologies to protect the rights of the works’ owners even in times of hyperactivity.